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Rep.-elect George Santos faces growing anger from New York voters

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

New York Congressman-elect George Santos faces growing public outrage and questions from prosecutors about lies that he told before winning office last month. The Republican who misled voters about much of his life story is slated to be sworn in at the Capitol next week. But a source has confirmed to NPR that the U.S. attorney's office is now reviewing Santos' case. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Jorge Santos has acknowledged inventing or embellishing huge chunks of his official biography during the campaign on Long Island. He lied about his career in education, claimed falsely his family escaped the Holocaust and said he owns valuable real estate holdings, which isn't true. But in interviews this week, Santos has been defiant, blaming the scandal on liberal media. Here he is speaking with WABC Radio.

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GEORGE SANTOS: To go out there and say I'm some fictional character that just showed up and ran and now I'm a Russian asset and - this is not journalism.

MANN: Santos says he broke no laws, but a source tells NPR the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn is now looking into Santos' finances. This morning, protesters gathered on Long Island.

ANNA KAPLAN: We demand accountability.

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MANN: Diane Kaplan (ph) is a Democratic state senator who represents part of New York's 3rd Congressional District. She asked where Santos got $700,000 he loaned his campaign.

KAPLAN: George Santos must be investigated by all appropriate authorities...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

KAPLAN: ...Particularly surrounding his shady business dealings and his mystery millions that seem to have appeared overnight.

MANN: Here's why Santos' money is drawing so much scrutiny. As recently as 2020, the Republican was describing himself in campaign filings as cash poor. He's acknowledged leaving significant debts unpaid. But in a federal financial disclosure document covering 2021 and 2022, Santos said his business, called the Devolder Organization, had begun producing millions of dollars in revenue and assets, some of which Santos says he loaned his political campaign. Here he is again on WABC Radio.

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SANTOS: That is the money that I paid myself through my company, Devolder Organization.

MANN: Santos says all his financial dealings were legal. But Nassau County's Republican district attorney, Anne Donnelly, has also announced a probe to determine whether any of Santos' behavior violated the law. If a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it, Donnelly said. All of this has left voters on Long Island, including Howard Shaw, confused and angry.

HOWARD SHAW: This is not embellishing. This is outright lying - financially, professionally, personally.

MANN: Another voter, Jahnissi Ardilla, agrees and says it's outrageous the political system allowed Santos to win a seat in Congress without more vetting.

JAHNISSI ARDILLA: I just think it's such crap. Like, teachers have to, like, present so much information in order to, like, get their license. And this guy's just going to lie and still be able to go into Congress. I think it's stupid (laughter).

MANN: Asked whether Santos could do anything to regain her trust, Ardilla answered this way.

ARDILLA: Not go. Give up your seat and let somebody else who's more qualified and knows actually what they're talking about to go in your place.

MANN: The Santos scandal has tarnished what was a bright spot for Republicans in the midterm elections. The GOP stumbled nationally last month but managed to build a razor-thin House majority, in part because of victories here in New York. Republican leaders in Washington have been silent so far about Santos' lies. If he is forced to step aside, it would trigger a special election in a fiercely competitive district. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann